Friday, July 11, 2014

The Tehachapi Loop

The Tehachapi Loop is a railroad engineering masterpiece in Central California.  On the day we set out to find it, we waited for an entire hour and a half in the hot sun, but were finally rewarded with the arrival of a huge freight train.  I lost count at 100 cars.  It went on, I swear, for miles and miles and sure enough, looped around and over itself like a giant serpent.  We had joined a group of men from Australia who had also discovered the hill overlooking the tracks.  They had set up tripods and started hootin' and hollerin' as they saw the train advance.

But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .

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Our journey began earlier at an elevation 3000 feet below the pass at the little town of Caliente--now more a ghost town than anything.  This is where the 3,000 Chinese laborers lived while building the tracks for the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The post office was established in 1875 and still serves the people who have cattle ranches along the Kern River.

The ascent to Tehachapi Pass begins here.  We climbed a hill in Caliente and saw the wide horseshoe turn that the train takes before it begins its climb, culminating in the now famous Tehachapi Loop.  This 16-mile section was the final phase of the 478-mile route between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The tracks were cut through solid granite using only picks, shovels and blasting powder.  Between the San Joaquin Valley and Tehachapi there are 18 tunnels and 10 bridges.   After completion in 1877, the construction crew up and left.  The saloons, stores, restaurants and three hotels all closed soon after.
We then hopped in our car and drove to the summit, taking State Route 58 to Tehachapi Road where there is a place to park by the historic marker.  A few yards ahead is another parking spot with a dirt trail that leads to an even better, higher spot where you can see the entire spectacle from start to finish.  We were told freight trains are frequent, coming every 45-90 minutes throughout the day.  Just be patient.  Believe me, it's worth it!


The train parallels the highway and then swerves to the right.


It goes behind the hill, then swerves left and goes through a tunnel.


Then it loops around the hill a second time and then crosses over itself.  If the train is long (like it was this day) the first half of the train is 77 feet above the last half, which is still negotiating the tunnel below.

The train, therefore, makes two circles, winding around itself before making another wide swerve to the right and into the Tehachapi Valley.
We were all shaking with excitement at seeing this train wind around and around like a coiled snake.  Of course, it slows way down and it's barely crawling as it makes its way around the hill and through the tunnel, so there's plenty of time to get some great photos.  What a thrill this must be for the train engineers.  Certainly a thrill for us and our Australian friends.  You don't have to be a train aficionado to appreciate the engineering involved.  That this railroad track is still being used after 137 years is truly a marvel!

Continuing on its way

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